What's one of the biggest complaints you hear about native advertising and content discovery specifically? The raunchy images and click-bait headlines, right? How many times have you read an article only to get to the end to be confronted with content "recommendations" that have absolutely no context, images of scantily clad women and sensational headlines? It happens to me all of the time, and quite frankly, it gives content promotion a bad name. It almost seems like they're targeting the 13-year-old version of me sometimes.
This is one reason many brands and content marketers have not adopted content discovery as a promotion channel. Most brands aren't interested in having their content show up next to a racy image of Kim Kardashian. Many of these native ad units look like spam to many readers. They're often bait-and-switch offenders to the poor folks duped into clicking on them. The end result? They bounce.
How does that help anyone? The publisher just got paid for the click and so did the native network. The marketer can turn around and say, "Look at all the traffic I drove," too. If someone like me questions time on site or bounce rates, the marketer can juxtapose the data with traditional banner ad analytics. Do the analytics stink? Sure they do, but when compared to banner ads most analytics look great. According to Solve Media, you're more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad.
A race to the bottom?
Over time it appeared content discovery networks were having a race to the bottom. Many of them don't have much further to drop, either. There's not much distance between raunch and smut. Some of the major networks have reacted to this criticism by removing so-called fake stories or ads disguised as content. Some have also amped up the visibility of their sponsorship disclosure on the widget itself.
Even with these changes, many online publications still refuse to use content discovery widgets to drive revenue and many content marketers refuse to amplify their content using these networks. Some of the networks are also combating these poor impressions by giving readers the ability to vote down the recommended content and allowing publishers to disallow articles it deems irrelevant or too raunchy.
Fixing content discovery
While some of the major content discovery networks should be applauded for their attempts at cleaning up their content, they're still going about it the wrong way. The incentives are all wrong. Because content discovery networks charge marketers in a Cost Per Click (CPC) manner and publishers get paid on a per click basis, the only real incentive is on the click.
That means that the marketer will use almost any means at his or her disposal to get a click, just like banner ads. This seems counter-intuitive for most marketers who don't do media buying. What good is a click if it just bounces, right? In the world of banner ads low-performing stats versus organic channels are the norm.
Publishers and networks want this, too, because that's how they make their money. The marketer can justify the poor engagement after the click because it's comparable to or a smidgen better than banner ads. However, if the marketer's analytical performance was compared to organic channels like search, referral or social media traffic, as opposed to banner ads, the click by itself wouldn't be the incentive because the click would be tracked to a conversion of some type and optimization would ensue.
If content discovery networks dropped their CPC schemes and implemented a Cost Per Engagement (CPE) model instead, marketers, publishers and the networks themselves would be incentivized to deliver actual good content that engages readers and leads to real action. This is how organic channels are mostly handled. This would stop the race to the bottom and actually provide true value to readers, marketers, publications, and ultimately, the networks themselves.
This change would likely completely legitimize content discovery as a channel in the minds of most brands and make it a must have revenue source for most publishers. It would eliminate the raunch and bait-and-switch almost immediately. The networks could charge a lot more in a CPE model, too.
Change is possible
Today, inPowered, the company that enables advertisers to drive consumer engagement with their brands by promoting trusted content, launched the 2.0 version of its software and services. inPowered works with several native networks to amplify earned media for brands. The previous version of inPowered featured a CPC pricing model.
That model was done away with in favor of a CPE model. inPowered 2.0 is the first content promotion platform to only charge for actual engagement with content. What looks like a minor change to many can actually have a monumental impact on content marketing moving forward. If some of the major content discovery networks enact this same pricing model we'll see content discovery become much more reader, brand and publisher-friendly than what it is today and the 13 year-old version of me won't be marketed to anymore.
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Image credit: Flickr